Seminar Highlights: Policy Innovation and Inclusive Design

It's definitely a tough day and a day that many of us will never forget. 

I admit that I am not into politics and I don't pay much attention to news either. Therefore, I won't comment much on what happened and why.

So why this post?

As a designer and a student at the Royal College of Art, I had the privellge of attending to two insightful lectures today (making this surrpressing day a productive day): first it was the Service Design Seminar on public service innovation presented by Marco Steinberg, founer of Snowcone & Haystack and Andrea Siodmok, Head of the Policy Lab in the Cabinet Office; second it was John Maeda, discussing about 'Computational Design and Inclusion'. 

Highlights & Takeaways

  • The world is full of 'centers', not only 'a center'.
    No single voice (or perhaps we should say the 'mainstream' voice) should be able to represent the entire crowds.

Air Canada flight route map

Air Canada flight route map

  • Rethinking the definition of 'a good government'? 
    We’ve been led by those ‘successful leaders’  (or even their sons and daughters) hence lag of realizing the shift in reality. Does the success in the past still fit for today's society? Or does it blind us from seeing the reality? What role does the government play? Should they offer support in enabling the people to do the things people care about?
  • We need 'a portfolio approach' to change.
    Currently, there are many projects running in parallel but does not align to a mutual interest, therefore leading to resource waste and inefficiency. Projects need to add up to positive change. It is crucial to understand how each projects are connected and acknowledge the interests of different parties.
     
  • We are moving from risk to uncertainty.
    We cannot and should not handle uncertainty the same way we handle risks. Risk - Measurable by statistics; whereas, Uncertainty - Lack of measurement, no precedent (ie. climate change, policy transformation). Plan implement and change should happen at the same time, not a process. And the role of design here is to transform uncertainty to risk (through prototyping) and nudge towards solution.
     
  • Admit being ignorant, remove presumptions.
    Sometimes, we don't mean to be exclusive. We thought we were considering 'everyone', but that 'everyone' is just someone like 'you'. John Maeda gave the example of Snapchat not being able to capture black people's face on their face filter function. It is not that the designers/developers at Snapchat are intentionally exluding people of color, it's just that when they tested the product there were no black people on the team.
     
  • Just because it was easy, doesn't mean there is no 'learning' involved.
    Compare between cars and cameras: cars are bigger than camers but their maunal size are significantly the opposite. Why? Because we had to take driving lessons and pass the test in order to drive, but there's no test required before purchasing a camera (right?) 
  • Good things take time.
        - esign is about finding patterns. 
        - esign is best when familiarity + Novel
        - cheiving simplicity is complex
     
  • Start doing it...
        - Change the default
        - Work at the extremes
        - Take on the impossible

I found the two talks very inspiring and reflect upon the current social issues that is happening around the world (not limited to the US election today). Yes, I admit that I know too little, and perhaps ignorant in someway, maybe being too comfortable in my bubble – it's time to change that.

Solo Dining Series: Princi

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Princi
  • Total Spending: £12
  • Dining Duration: 30 min (6:00 – 6:30)
  • Awkward Level: 1/5
  • Seating: Bar table by the wall
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 2 times

Pre-dining Expectation

I have passed by Princi many times, but it just never occured to me to walk in and eat for some reasons. One is probably becuase when I'm usually in the area, I am usually with other people, and they tend to lead and choose the places. Two is that the place looked more like a chained restaurant/cafeteria, which are not exactly the type of places I would like to go. When I eat out, I like to explore and potentially finding some hidden gems. I was quite surprised to discovered that Princi is actually not a big chain (not in London, in Milan though).

Once I entered, the wait staffs could probably see the confused look on my face. There were two different areas in the place, and I was trying to figure out why. A manager came up to me and asked, "First time here?" I told him it was my first time and he explained how the place works. They have a pizzeria, which is made-to-order and offers table services, on the left and self-serve food counters on the right. With the self-serving sections, they have a great variety of choices, from cakes, pastries, breads to sliced pizzas and selections of salads. 

With a big plate, you can select up to four different 'dishes'. I got a green salad, pumpkins with creme, beetroots, and quinoa with salmon; and then ordered for a bottle of sparkling water to go with it. It's like eating at a buffet, but instead of getting your own food, they help you to put on the plate. I looked around and found a spot at the bar table, which was facing the wall with some weird water fountain setting. I would prefer the window seats, but it was already mostly taken and I didn't want to sit right next to other people. 

Since I had nothing to do or see while eating, I decided to read on my iPad. The food was nothing surprising but tasted not bad. I liked the fact that I could create my own combination. It didn't take me long until I got full, I couldn't finish the whole thing. So I just sat there reading, and picked on some more food here and there once in awhile. I liked the feeling that I don't feel rushed by the latter customers coming to eat. I could take my time and eat. 

Always room for desserts

I was at the hair salon earlier today, and my stylist told me there's a dairy-free ice cream place called Yorica. I have recently decided to cut out dairy products from my diet and testing out whether my skin condition would improve. Coincidentally, it was just right across the street, so I decided to give it a try. I first tried the ice cream flavors, but since it was made with coconut milk, the coconut flavor was quite strong, which I am not a fan of. I then tried their fro-yo, which was less coconuty, so I ended up getting a vanilla and matcha fro-yo topped with some fruits. 

This time, I sat next to the window and just watching the passersby. It just felt really relaxing and a good ending for the meal. 


Princi
135 Wardour St, London W1F 0UT
www.princi.co.uk
020 7478 8888

Solo Dining Series: The Palomar

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: The Palomar
  • Total Spending: £49
  • Dining Duration: 1 hr (6:45 – 7:45)
  • Awkward Level: 1/5
  • Seating: Open kitchen bar
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 6 times

Pre-dining Expectation

When I came across this restaurant on the recommended list for solo diners, I was quite intrigued to see Jerusalem food here in the UK. I have been to Jerusalem when I was in elementary school, but to be honest, I can't recall what types of food we had when we were there. I was also particularly drawn by their asthetic style, seeing their beautifully designed branding immediately added bonus points in my mind. 

I tried to book in advance, but there wasn't any availability during my chosen time slots. Reading from their website and other reviews that there's a waiting bar available, I thought I'd just drop by and if I'm lucky, I get seated right away; if not, I wouldn't mind a drink before dinner. When I arrived, the front house host was busy settling couple groups of guests. He rushed in and out of the different section of the restaurant and apologized to me more than 3 times, asking me to wait on the side. When he finally finished, I told him I was here on my own; he looked through their reservation list and told me that the wait would be about an hour. My heart sank but decided to stay positive and give it half an hour before I go elsewhere to eat. The guy told me that I can leave my numbers and he will call when a table becomes ready. He didn't offer me to the bar area – was it full? or did he think that I wouldn't be interested? I don't know...

I gave him my number and walked to the Costca coffee around the corner, since I didn't want to walk too far away from the restaurant. 

Time to eat

After 30 minutes, the restaurant called - yay, lucky me! I went back and was led to sit at their kitchen bar. The restaurant was probably one of the busiest out of my experiment so far, not only the kitchen staffs were chatting, singing while cooking, guests were also talking, and perhaps the narrow aisle added to that 'crowdness', but it wasn't a negative impression of noisy, it was just lively, which I quite enjoyed. 

There was a couple sitting on my left hand side, and a women in about her mid-40s sitting alone on my right. While I was trying to figure out what to eat, I could hear the waitress coming by to ask whether the lady wanted to order more food or drinks. I could sense the lady got a bit frustrated as she said no thank you but the waitress kept pushing. 

The thing about solo dining is that your eyes are always more hungry than you really are.
Especially if you go to a new restaurant for the first time, you'd want to try many different dishes and making a decision tend to be very difficult. Sometimes you end up listening to the staff's recommendation, and if it didn't turn out the way you expected, you'd wish that you have stuck to your original instincts. Today, I decided to go with my own guts. I ordered fish of the day, which was cod with tomato sauce, polenta with asparagus and mushrooms, and sweet potato chips (i read many reviews about it!). I didn't know what polenta was, but since I love mushrooms (again!) and asparagus, I just got it anyways. 

The sweet potato chips were amazing! It was seasoned nicely and wasn't greasy at all. It also comes with yogurt and mint sauce for dipping, but I like it plain. The polenta was served in a very cute tin pot, it had a texture kinded reminded me of mash potatoes. It was really delicious, and I then learned that it's one of their signature dishes. However, it was too rich that I could only finish 1/3 of it, just eating the vegetables and sadly leaving the rest of polenta. While I waited in between dishes, I saw the chefs grilling some bread that looked fluffy and tasty. I wonder what it was on the menu, thinking I wish I had gotten that or have it next time when I'm here. A few minutes later, the fish arrived, and also served with generous piece of fluffy brioche that I was eyeing for – dilemma solved!

So much food, just for one (full)

So much food, just for one (full)

For dessert, I asked the waitress whether to pick Orange Blossom Ice Cream or the Chocolate Crémeux. She recommended the Chocolate Crémeux, which was a very smooth-textured earl grey infused crémeux, with blood orange, milk streusel, cardamom marshmallow & coco-hazelnut tuile. When they served it, it came on a giant stone-like plate, much more bigger than I expected. I watched the chefs preparing other desserts and they were all served in small cups, so I was expecting something similar in size. If i had known how big it was, I probably wouldn't have gotten it. I don't know why i always like asking for recommendations; I suppose they know better about the food they serve. However, seems like most of the time I always wish I had stuck with my own choice. It could be, perhaps, I would still have not liked what I ordered, but at least I would be more comfortable since it was my own call. I think for future reference, I should just go with my instinct. 

Post-food Reflection

The Palomar is definitely worth coming back again, whether it's by myself or with few other friends. The kitchen bar makes me feel very at ease – people going in and out, and constantly talking noises around, doesn't make me feel out of place. The only thing I would change is to take more initiatives and inform the wait staffs what I am in the mood for and how hungry I am, so I don't over-order.

While I was eating, two other ladies came to sit next to me, both by themselves. One seemed like she just finished watching the show with a program booklet in her hand, and the other one seemed as if she just got off work. So far throughout my experiment, these two were the first solo female diners I came across. I noticed that one of them also ordered a polenta but in a much smaller portion. I felt a bit disappointed as it wasn't available on the menu and the waitress didn't inform me of the option. So I decided to make a suggestion while I was paying for the meal. The waitress (she wasn't the one who took my order) said that she always tell the customers if they are dining by themselves, but she said to make sure the message will be passed on to the rest of the staffs. 


The Palomar
34 Repert Street
London, W1D 6DN
info@thepalomar.co.uk
0207 439 8777
 

Solo Dining Series: Bocca Di Lupo

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Bocca Di Lupo
  • Total Spending: £40
  • Dining Duration: 1 hr 5 min (5:45 – 6:50)
  • Awkward Level: 3/5
  • Seating: Open kitchen bar
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 8 times

Pre-dining Expectation

I've heard so many positive reviews about Bocca Di Lupo. In fact, even before I knew it was a recommended place for solo dining, I have tried to dine there by myself twice (usually after a spontaneous stroll down the shopping area); unfortunately, it was always full. This time, I made sure to make a reservation to avoid disappointment. However, the online reservation experience was not so pleasant – seemed like they have blocked out all the prime dinner time unavailable for solo diners. I tried every single day to even a month later...no luck. I couldn't believe it, so I had to make a call. I tried to sound as normal and calm when I called, I didn't want the other end to hear that I had any sort of hesitation of dining by myself. 

Arriving at the restaurant

When I arrived, the host greeted me by the reception stand (not sure if that's the proper name?) and told me that they have arranged me to be seated at the 'chef's table'. I knew that they had open kitchen and bars areas, but didn't know that it had a specific name. That for me was quite unique, especially I love watching the live action of bustling kitchen. Considering my reservation was at 17:45, the bar was still quite empty. I was the only one eating at the bar, and several customers drinking at the bar on the other end. There were also a few tables in the back of the restaurant, which was a seperate area. I felt quite isolated and stood out from the crowd, as I was the only customer at the bar. The staffs probably didn't pay much attention, but I definitely felt a sense of awkwardness, especially their conversation was mainly in Italian – I had no idea what they were talking about me. They could be talking about me and I wouldn't even have a clue (though I doubt that's the case). 

The Food

I ordered a radish salad as an entree and a mushroom risotto from their special menu. While waiting for the food, I munched on some ciabatta, drank some wine and watched the chefs cooking with some fancy pan flipping techniques. The were four chefs on the shift and cooking non-stop. Two of them are mainly in charge of the stove and one with oven and one prepping food on the side. Their conversations are mainly about what dishes are coming up next, what orders have been made; very little casual chatting. All of them looked quite serious. It was definitely intense watching the chefs working, but at the same time quite enjoyable if you're into these kind of things. It's a great opportunity to watch how they streamline the cooking process. The experience was different from my other experiences with open kitchen, which sometimes the chefs would have a brief friendly conversation with you or serve you directly after the dishes are done. Here at Bocca Di Lupo, they have wait staffs assigned to these task. 

From where I was sitting, I was directly facing the sous chef and also nearby where they set the finished dishes; then the expediter would assign wait staffs to distribute them to other tables. The advantage of it is that I get to see what's the most popular ordered dish of the night, and also seeing the variety of food they have, start thinking about what I'd like to eat next time when I come with more people, so we could try out more dishes. The disadvantage is that when the waiters/waitresses are waiting for the upcoming dish, they all grouped right next to me, which made me really awkward sitting there eating by myself.

After awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoying watching how the chefs were cooking the food, and also tried to 'decode' what they were communicating. There is a specific logic behind it. Based on my understanding, the expediter is the key communication person between sous chef and the other wait staffs. He tells the kitchen what has been ordered, and then notify the wait staffs when the dishes are ready to be served. Each table has a unique number, and everytime when a table has finished serving all their meals, the expediter says "Finished", as a sign of completion. With all the numbers and dish names, I was really impressed by how the sous chef could memorize all the information. 

Since I have been dying to try this place for so long, I couldn't give up the chance of also trying their desserts, even though I was quite full already. I had two options in mind but I also wanted to get some suggestions from the waitress. She recommended the 'Bonet', saying that it's not as commonly seen in Italian restaurants like tiramisu but still quite a typical Italian dessert. On their menu it said 'chocolate, coffee, amaretti, caramel and rum pudding', which was hard to resist combination. Knowing that it would probably be a bit heavy, I still decided to give it a try. The first couple bites were pretty good, the dense and creamy texture was very satisfying, but after the fifth bite, I am getting tired of the taste. However, I didn't wanted to waste food, so I kept going...and going...until I finished half way, I finally gave up. I wonder if they could have served a smaller portion? 

Radish, celeriac, pomegranate, pecorino salad, truffle dressing:  Thinly sliced radishes and celeriac tossed in truffle vinaigrette and topped with generous parmesan shavings and pomegranate   seeds to add unique twist. 

Radish, celeriac, pomegranate, pecorino salad, truffle dressing: Thinly sliced radishes and celeriac tossed in truffle vinaigrette and topped with generous parmesan shavings and pomegranate seeds to add unique twist. 

Post-food Reflection

Given the reservation was so difficult, I think unless next time it's for special occasions or a friend specifically requested to dine there, I don't think I would make so much effort of dining here. With the constantly changing schedule of people, it's hard to plan ahead months to eat out. I wouldn't say that I particularly enjoyed the bar experience, since there wasn't much engagement and just sitting and watching. If I was with others, maybe it would be a nice conversation stimulation, but being there by myself, I didn't think it added much. Plus, Italian food tends to be more rich and creamy and having to finish the entire plate by myself is just too much. Ordering a variety and take home the leftovers don't seem like an option either, as the food usually don't taste as good after reheating. Well, at least now I can say that I've been to Bocca Di Lupo after the whole hype...


Bocca Di Lupo
12 Archer Street
Soho, London
020 7734 222
www.boccadilupo.com 

 

Solo Dining Series: Kanada-Ya

Overview

  • Restaurant Name: Kanada-Ya
  • Total Spending: £19
  • Dining Duration: 28min (excluding waiting time, 6:27 – 6:55)
  • Awkward Level: 4/5
  • Seating: Communal table with 7 other people
  • Interaction with waiters/waitress: 4 times

The Wait

I hate queuing. I either eat at somewhere with no queue, or places where I can make reservations in advance to ensure that I will be seated at the time I arrive. The only time that I'd queue for eating is when the wait is less than 30 minutes (because though they usually tell you the wait is 30 minutes, it's usually less than that) and I don't have to be there waiting on the spot; another situation may be when I'm with some friends and we could just chat and kill time. I remember one of my best experiences was waiting at Dishoom, where they would give you hot chai, which makes waiting in the cold so much better. You could also escape into their bars, and drink while you wait – another strategy by the restaurants trying to squeeze more money out of you, haha (I know several other restaurants are also doing similar things, ie. Company Below, Wahacha, etc.). Anyways, we're derailing now...back to topic.

When I arrived at the restaurant, there were approximately other 10 people in the queue. There was no sign of estimated waiting time, and I was tempted to go to the other ramen place (Ippudo) across the street, which had no queue and also quite good. Just when I was about to walk across the street, some people in front of me gave up queuing and crossed the street.

Makes me wonder: How can you encourage people stay queueing in line? 

I joined the queue with other strangers. There were groups of friends, and some were couples. I was the only one waiting by myself. After 10 minutes wait, the waitress came out with some menus for us to look at first, and also asked each party size. When I said one, she didn't reacted differently comparing to others – no surprises, no hesitations. I suppose many people come here alone as well. 

In the restaurant

After about 30 minutes, it was finally my turn – a big group has just left, so i was being seated in the corner of a large table, which was immediately seated with two more groups of friends, a total of 7. I was the only one dining by myself, which immediately felt very awkward, and I wish I had just insisted on waiting for the window table on the side.

The whole time I was eating, I didn't know where to look. The waiting for the food part was probably the most painful part. I kept drinking on my oolong tea, as I had nothing else to do. I tried to act normal and calm, and looked at some surroundings occassionally, but still, everytime I made an eye contact with people across from me, I felt they were looking at me weirdly. 

The food arrived about 5 minutes later, but I felt that it was one of the longest 5 minutes in my life. I just wanted to focus on my ramen, eat and get out. While I was eating, I could hear the conversation of those friends around me. By the time I finished my dinner, I could already piece out the story: they are all new Londoners, coming to study interaction/graphic designs. Two of them are couples, and the other girl is their 'possible-classmate'. One of the girls was from Hong Kong, and have lived in Malaysia and Singapore before moving to London. She went to Canadian international school in Hong Kong...and the guy said that he doesn't eat spicy food until he met his girlfriend, who is half Chinese...and as you know, by the end of the meal I can already tell you so much about them. 

I mean, don't get me wrong, it's interesting hearing people's story, but just eavesdropping like that makes me feel very uncomfortable. I wonder what they think if they realized that their life story has been over-heard by another stranger? I know I certainly wouldn't really like that. There was a point that I wanted to jump in the conversation, since they obviously share similar background with me, all studying creative/design related field. However, I only had that thought for one split second and then gave up. Imagine how awkward it would be, having a stranger budging in the conversation while you're having a meal with group of friends? **AWKWARD**

The food was not even the point anymore. I felt very self-conscious the whole time I was eating there, so I just tried to finish as quickly as possible, without being too sloppy looking. I know that in Japanese culture, it's okay to slurp your noodles; in fact, the louder the better, meaning the food was really delicious. However, given the fact that we're not in Japan, I still tried to maintain the western manners and ate quietly/lady-like. 

Post-reflection

By the time I finally got out, I felt more relieved. I finally have more personal space and a peace of mind. Eating ramen is usually quick and straightforward. By choosing to eat ramen, you tend to expect the efficiency of it. The experience having to wait for ramen, and eat with a bunch of strangers in a communal table was definitely not one of the most pleasant experiences. If I were to go back again by myself, would definitely insist on sitting at one of those bar tables or window seats (facing the street). I think I'd probably be more comfortable slurpping my noodles to the pedestrians rather than to strangers across the table. 


Kanada-Ya
64 St Giles High Street, London, WC2H 8LE
0207 240 0232
www.kanada-ya.com